Gear Bag. The Boring, Important Stuff: #1 A Car

When there is talk of photography gear usually it revolves around the sexy stuff — the brand new cameras, the fastest glass, some european strobe or light modifier. They’re easy to overlook, but there are plenty of “boring” things that I consider part of my critical gear as a photographer that are not specific to the field but that are either essential for me to work, or at least make my life a little easier.

I plan to keep a running list of these pieces of gear, in no particular order of importance — just in the order that they pop into my mind.

#1: A Car

2011 VW Diesel Wagon

2011 VW Diesel Wagon

I want to start my list with what I would argue is my most important piece of gear aside from the cameras and lenses. A location photographer without a reliable car, just wouldn’t be able to work.

I spend many thousands of miles on the road every year, and over all those hours at the wheel I grow very attached to my car. I took my time through most of last year to look for the perfect replacement for my 2008 Golf.

2008 VW Hatchback

2008 VW Hatchback

The Golf had given me five years of faithful service, but it had two major problems. First was overall size: it was a bit small to comfortably carry all the gear, me, an assistant, and leave room for anyone else. Second was fuel economy: the same thing that made the car fun made it less fun at the gas pump.

Golf engine bay with 2.5L 5-cylinder engine

Golf engine bay with 2.5L 5-cylinder engine

For the US market VW chose to shoehorn in a 2.5L 5-cylinder engine that in Europe they don’t offer on this car. On the Golf I averaged about 22 mpg on normal driving and on long highway trips the best I ever managed was 31 mpg. Trudging through heavy traffic I could expect at best about 18 mpg.

TDI engine bay with 4-cylinder turbo

TDI engine bay with 4-cylinder turbo

I was not specifically looking for another VW, but in some ways the choice felt predetermined. We just don’t have a lot of choices in the US for station wagons. The choices for diesel powered anything that isn’t a truck? Well, they’re even slimmer. Luckily, I already knew that I like the Jetta wagon. My wife has been driving the gas version for a bit over a year now and going with diesel means much better fuel efficiency.

A medium amount of gear loaded into the Golf, leaving barely enough space for a photographer and an assistant

A medium amount of gear loaded into the Golf, leaving barely enough space for a photographer and an assistant

With the TDI wagon, I am seeing much better fuel consumption. On the highway I have no problem getting 42 mpg. And most important, my average for normal driving around is 36 mpg and when I have to crawl through traffic the worst I’ve seen is 28 mpg.

Just like with my previous car, I am hoping for 5 years of good, uneventful service from the TDI wagon.

A Beautiful Place for Worship

Trinity's grand sanctuary can seat 1,250 worshipers.

Trinity’s grand sanctuary can seat 1,250 worshipers.

I first came to Trinity Lutheran Church last year, while on assignment for the ELCA¬†and I fell in love with the congregation’s beautiful, 178-year-old historic building. I asked for permission to return and photograph the building and a couple of weeks ago I was able to do just that.

Trinity's 181-foot steeple was erected in 1957.

Trinity’s 181-foot steeple was erected in 1957.

Like a lot of churches recently, the congregation’s numbers have shrunk and most Sundays the grand sanctuary is empty while the congregation has service in a smaller chapel on the ground level.

Sunday service is held in Trinity's smaller chapel.

Sunday service is held in Trinity’s smaller chapel.

It would be a cliche to point out that buildings aren’t made like they used to; but, they really aren’t. The stairwell leading up to the choir balcony wouldn’t ever have been used by more than a small percentage of the congregation. Still, the trim work around the window, door, and baseboard were given the same attention as in the rest of the building.

Beauty waits to be discovered at every corner.

Beauty waits to be discovered at every corner.

I really enjoyed the time I spent at Trinity, both the Sunday I was happy to share service with the congregation and the morning I spent in silent reflection photographing the building. I felt that both the people and the spaces welcomed me graciously. I hope that the building can be preserved for many more generations.

The ceiling's massive rosette is in perfect balance with the size of the grand sanctuary.

The ceiling’s massive rosette is in perfect balance with the size of the grand sanctuary.

You can find more images from Trinity on my website.

Eating Well Locally

Kristin and Scott, owners of Breezy's Cafe

Kristin and Scott, the owners of Breezy’s Cafe.

The best business ideas are born from realizing that there is something you yourself want and there is no one out there providing it yet. My friends, Kristin Wolak and Scott Harnish, were frustrated with the food choices in their neighborhood and decided to do something about it.

Kristin and Scott were also looking to make a career change, so it made sense to bring the kind of food they wanted to eat to Point Breeze, Philadelphia. And it seems to be a hit with their neighbors, the cafe has already moved to a much larger and better location a few blocks from its original spot!

Fred Muser, cook at Breezy's Cafe

Fred Muser is Breezy’s cook.

Breezy’s Cafe¬†serves up local and all natural ingredients in responsible, biodegradable packaging, all in a colorful and quirky setting — my personally favorite touch are the board game table tops.

Breezy’s Cafe is located at 1200 Point Breeze Ave in Philadelphia.
Check them out on their website, and on Facebook.

Making it Through the Winter

Washington's guard, Valley Forge Park

Washington’s guard, Valley Forge Park

It’s been hard to get through this winter. It feels like no sooner do we get ourselves dug out from one storm the next one comes in directly behind it.

George Washington surveying the wintery scene at Valley Forge Park

George Washington surveying the wintery scene at Valley Forge Park

To get my mind off of all the plans that this week’s weather is ruining, I decided to drive out to Valley Forge Park yesterday and have a short walk.

Washington's Headquarters, Valley Forge Park

Washington’s Headquarters, Valley Forge Park

All in all, there have been worst winters — It was nice to get some perspective.

 

At Work

Props help create a purpose and direct action.

Props help create a purpose and direct action.

Prospective clients visit your website not just to find a way to contact you, but to learn about you and your staff. Many times it will be the first impression your business makes on that client.

Good head shots are important, but they don't have to be your company's only face.

Good head shots are important, but they don’t have to be your company’s only face.

Traditionally a company’s website might have a scrolling page of head shots with a short blurb with each person’s bio. This is very useful and efficient way of showing every member of staff. Presenting your staff only as a mosaic of smiling faces misses an important opportunity to communicate with current and prospective clients.

Let your clients put a face to the voice on the telephone.

Let your clients put a face to the voice on the telephone.

Showing the “Team At Work” on your website communicates more than just competence, it can show your organization’s personality.

Reviewing paper work.

Reviewing paper work.

The trick to making these photographs successful is to make them feel as natural as possible. For these images I use minimal lighting that looks natural and allows the camera to move around the action, and ask the subjects to pretend it is a normal day and I am not there.

An improptu meeting on the street.

An improptu meeting on the street.

This last part can naturally be the largest hurdle because the normal work day usually doesn’t include a photographer, a photographer’s assistant, and flash bulbs firing. But, if I take my time, give them some props, some minimal direction, and let them talk about their work, people will fall into their normal banter and I can get the best images.